There can be few more frustrating exercises for a journalist than trying to elicit straight answers from police forces. Legions of press officers are, mostly, conditioned to stonewall newshounds in search of the truth behind a story.
Too often they are briefed by senior officers to provide obfuscating, misleading or, on more rare occasions, untruthful answers to the media. The latter invariably to either avoid, or at least minimise, reputational damage to the force or wider police service.
So, the opportunity to ask direct questions of chief officers in open forum is a vanishingly rare one in the post-Leveson era, and is not one that should be passed up lightly.
Every month or so, North Yorkshire Police and its Police and Crime Commissioner hold a meeting of senior warranted and civilian officers which goes by the grand title of Corporate Performance, Delivery and Scrutiny Board. It is live podcasted, and even has a Twitter hashtag, #NYPScrutiny.
Except that virtually no-one watches the podcast. Either live, or by way of catch-up on YouTube, and there is little, or no, public interaction on social media about the Scrutiny Board.
Those that have watched the podcast probably wouldn’t repeat the exercise, as it is a complete waste of time as far as scrutiny goes – there is none – and the self-indulgent backslapping over performance and delivery, by those officers present around the meeting table, verges on nauseating.
Indeed, it is true to say that the exercise may now be all a tad too tedious, even for Chief Constable Dave Jones and PCC Julia Mulligan, as the former has been absent on holiday for the last two meetings (he also missed the previous three whilst away on secondment) and Julia has also missed two of the last three meetings. The latest because she was also on annual leave, we are told.
As part of the theatre of the occasion and, they say, in the interests of ‘transparency’, the Scrutiny Board invite public questions. These can be emailed in beforehand, or tweeted using the #NYPScrutiny hashtag whilst the meeting is in session.
As yet, they have not excluded journalists from the process so I have availed myself of the opportunity several times in the past. Indeed, it is rare for anyone other than myself, or uPSDNYP, to ask a question.
Just before the most recent Board meeting, I was contacted by a complainant for whom I have advocated informally for almost four years. She is a rape and fraud victim – and there are long standing issues with both NYP and their big city cousins, West Yorkshire Police over failures to successfully prosecute the perpetrator.
She told me that her two most recent conversations with a senior officer in NYP’s professional standards unit, Detective Chief Inspector Steve Fincham, had resulted in him losing his temper on both occasions including, in one of them, slamming the phone down.
Mr Fincham is an officer about whom I already know a great deal. He has dealt with a large number of complaints with which I have been directly, or indirectly, involved. Apart from an increasing portfolio of case files, I also hold a significant amount of credible, anecdotal evidence concerning the way this particular officer approaches his professional standards role. The criticism is not all from the public making complaints, either. There has also concern amongst serving officers about his uncultured, bullying approach to the job.
A decision was quickly reached between the rape victim and myself that a public question to the Scrutiny Board about DCI Fincham’s conduct might be more prescriptive than a formal incivility complaint against an officer who has delegated Appropriate Authority powers from the Chief Constable under the Police Reform Act. How prescient that turned out to be.
This is the question, faithfully reproduced in picture form, on screen, during the section of the meeting devoted to public questions:
What was not reproduced, specifically at my request, was background material given to the Police Commissioner’s office that was relevant to the question.
– That I have acted informally for the past four years for the complainant. We meet regularly, speak often on the telephone and share documents – and confirmation that I am strongly committed to doing everything in my power to see that she secures justice.
– It was asserted on her behalf that officers at managerial rank who cannot maintain self-control should not have public facing roles.
– It was also pointed out that, like me, the complainant is astounded at the lack of knowledge of due process that DCI Fincham appears to exhibit at almost every contact. That is much more concerning to both of us than inappropriate behaviour on the telephone.
– Finally, it was drawn to the attention of those present at the meeting that the rape victim will not be complaining to the force formally about DCI Fincham’s conduct because again, like me, she feels there is absolutely no point. He is, seemingly, protected by the Command Team and is likely to remain so. Also, like me, she has also much more important issues to address with NYP.
From the response given in this short excerpt from the podcast it is clear that Deputy Chief Constable Timothy Madgwick had read the email. He claims, as you will hear, that DCI Fincham is not protected by senior officers:
What has happened since that Board meeting ended has played out rather differently to what the rape victim, myself and now, it seems, the wider public on social media might have expected.
The day after the Board meeting I contacted the Police Commissioner’s office by email and this was the final paragraph of that message:
In the meantime, we will await the formal response to yesterday’s public question. If DCC Madgwick requires witness accounts from other members of the public with whom DCI Fincham has interacted, please do let me know. That may give enquiries into the matter a much more solid evidential base.
An answer was provided swifly by the Commissioner’s office, but it was unexpected to say the least: I don’t think there is an intention for a further response to be sent to you. The matter was raised and responded to (in the meeting).
Further exchanges have taken place with NYPCC, conducted in the familiar cordial manner, to the effect that if DCC Madgwick is not minded to investigate or respond to either myself, or the rape victim, then a more detailed complaint will be submitted via the Independent Police Complaints Commission. Supported by at least four witness accounts previously referred to.
Which, on any independent view, would place a further burden on the police complaints system which is already overloaded and beset by lengthy delays. So, why doesn’t DCC Madgwick, who ran the force’s professional standards unit in 2003 to 2004, just answer the question, ‘look into it‘ as he says on the video clip and tell those affected by Fincham’s behaviour, and the wider public, exactly what he has found and if he has disciplined the errant officer? Is that really so difficult to do?
Well, it seems the reluctance of Mr Madgwick to investigate the matter, and censure DCI Fincham, might be found in a senational development two days beyond the Scrutiny Board meeting. In a letter to Tim Thorne, the owner of the North Yorks Enquirer internet news magazine it turns out that – wait for it – DCI Fincham is to ‘investigate’ DCC Madgwick over a complaint made about him by Mr Thorne in June, 2016.
You couldn’t make it up, except this is the Alice Through The Looking Glass world of North Yorkshire Police where everything is ‘amazing’, ‘fantastic’ or ‘great’ and no-one in #TeamNYP (another Twitter hashtag) can possibly be the subject of criticism, let alone found out over wrongdoing.
Mr Thorne’s complaint concerned false evidence that DCC Madgwick had made in a witness statement in the well-chronicled Operation Hyson investigation, wherein it was claimed that ‘Tim Thorne’ was an alias used by Luxembourg-based chartered accountant, Tim Hicks. Madgwick had failed to correct the false assertion when first challenged by rebuttal evidence in October, 2015 and more publicly by me on Twitter in May, 2016 (see above picture).
Given that the complaint is now approaching three months old and is already non-compliant in a number of areas (failure to provide updates, wrong correspondence address used, wrong type of investigation ordered, officer of insufficient rank or hierarchal independence appointed to deal with the complaint) DCC Madgwick is hardly rushing to correct the mistake and front up with a public apology.
DCC Madgwick (pictured above) is also the subject of another police complaint concerning a further alleged falsehood in that same witness statement. That issue is presently in the hands of the IPCC, by way of an appeal against a decision not to record the complaint by – you may have guessed it – DCI Fincham. A third complaint against Madgwick also rests with the IPCC over allegations connected with alleged attempts to criminalise me by way of contempt in the Hyson court proceedings. Fincham also refused to record this complaint.
This is another classic case of the police, and a compliant Police and Crime Commissioner, managing to make any complaint situation, however straightforward, into a publicity disaster. The story will run and run for some time yet. Particularly, as Fincham, just three days after the Scrutiny Board meeting, flew off the handle yet again and put the phone down on a vulnerable and intimidated female for a third time. He lost his temper, yet again, when he was asked politely to behave properly and, particularly, as the complainant made Fincham aware of her having viewed the podcast. This was the tipping point, it seems, for PSD’s errant ‘golden boy’.
Both the North Yorkshire Police press office and the Police Commissioner’s office have been approached for comment but have yet to respond. These are the questions put to both:
1. The appropriateness of officers each investigating the other, over public complaints, at one and the same time.
2. The persistent and flagrant disposal of complaint issues by NYP/NYPCC outside the appropriate legislative framework.
3. The suitability of police officers at managerial rank, who exhibit repeated failures of self-control, to hold public facing roles.
The silence is, so far, deafening. As it is from DCC Madgwick, who has so far refused to respond to these matters put to him via Twitter:
Four days after this article was re-published on the North Yorks Enquirer news website, a member of the public came forward to give his own views on the PSD officer at the centre of this storm. Nigel Rush from Tadcaster, in a letter to the editor of the NYE, describes detective, Steve Fincham, variously as “aggressive, “boastful” and “frightening”. Mr Rush’s phone call with Fincham also ended with the phone being slammed down on him. He is, however, at pains to point out that interaction with other NYP officers was of a much more pleasant and professional tenor. I have heard another family group of complainants against NYP – all highly respectable people – use almost identical words when describing Fincham. Except that they have met him, as opposed to speaking on the telephone. Another complainant, whose lawyers are presently prosecuting a civil claim against North Yorkshire Police on his behalf, says: “I found him (Fincham) totally untrustworthy and full of artifice. He turned my complaint against an officer who had assaulted me on its head”.
On the very same day, well known governance campaigner, Gwen Swinburn, who mainly – and successfully – holds City of York Council to account, stepped into the ‘NYP let’s investigate each other’ debate on Twitter. Gwen asked Julia Mulligan if she could intervene in what she felt was a situation that was an affront to democracy whereby police officers could investigate each other at one and and the same time.
Despite the snub to a request for comment on this article, the NYPCC twitter account jumped in on Gwen’s tweet and answered on Julia’s behalf by saying they would ‘look into’ the situation. Quite what that amounts to is unclear, given that both the creation and the escalation of this bizarre situation is all down to the Commissioner’s office.
The fact that the ‘look into’ promise is exactly the same as used by DCC Madgwick at the Scrutiny Board meeting might be seen by some as ominous.With exactly the same outcome?
Page last updated: Friday 2nd September, 2016 at 1445hrs
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